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BroncoHauler 04-03-2012 07:51 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
If you're not going to use a potti that often, install a potti in your SMB, hang a Wag Bag in it, and just dispose of the bag. No need for a black water tank.


RickL 04-04-2012 10:18 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
I second the wag bag approach. I met a gent who had a Pleasure Way and he used wag bags instead of the van's toilet/black water system. He liked it much better that way. SMB West let me know that black water systems are just something else to break and that porta potties were the way to go.

Rick L

Spenard 04-05-2012 01:11 AM

My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
1 Attachment(s)
This thread seems to have wandered off from SMB building experience to the loo. Another disposal system solution is the black water tank with macerator pump out, uses a smaller self retracting discharge hose (at least on the airstream sprinters). Not sure how that hose gets flushed out.

Back on the trail... We just picked up our new Sprinter PT last week in Fresno and drove it via Yosemite NP, then up to I-5 to Weed and then Hwy 97 to Sisters, Fossil OR, Stevens, WA and sadly left it in my Brother's driveway in Vancouver WA last Sunday till mid May when we fly down to PDX and drive the Van to Prince Rupert and put it on the Ak Marine Hwy to Skagway and via Whitehorse home to Anchorage.

My experience with SMB was very good. I am a 58 yo architect who has owned 3 VW Westy pop tops and wanted something with more room, real heat, quieter and a more "living" type layout for recreational use in often rainy cold weather. We (my partner and I) like the Westy for its size, road handling and relatively high seating for great views and the windows on all sides for sitting inside in bad weather (blocked in back driver side by a relatively useless and difficult to access closet). Never missed having a toilet (we use a wide mouth tinted water bottle for night needs and dump it in the outhouse or woods in the morning and rinse it out with a dab of peppermint soap)

We went to Fresno last summer from Oregon in our 1991 Westy, looked over the operation and put down the deposit for a December delivery on a 2012 2500 and then went camping for a week in the Westy -closely observing what worked well for us about the Westy design and what did not.

Got home last summer and we reviewed SMB Sprinter plans, Roadtrek, Airstream, etc companies that use the sprinter platform and studied Forum pics and read threads and PMd several owners about their layout. Using the SMB tools and then Sketchup Software we generated a unique mid cabin dinette layout and special sized rear side bins for modular duffel bag storage of gear so we could have windows on all sides to look out and easy organized access to our stuff. I went down to SMB in mid December and talked over the scheme with our assigned rep. He questioned some of the ideas and made some suggestions but it was basically executed to our unique plan. I came back down about 5 weeks later to see the work underway and I made some minor equipment location tweaks. Came back when it was done, took delivery in Reno NV (sorry CA but your sales taxes on $$$ purchases are outrageous) and we spent a night in it and drove down to Fresno for an equipment operation briefing and to make a couple of more tweaks to the layout which SMB did right away including some minor upholstery work to help us secure our Kanz Kitchen box (Kanz or similar box is the way to go IMHO to have an organized kitchen for indoor and outdoor camping use without rat holing cook stuff all over the van). The Van and kitchen box can be seen in our Gallery.

I found SMB to be very good at listening. Yes sometimes e-mails took a couple of days for answers but they did respond with the answers i needed. My experience was probably better because of extensive professional design and construction experience (i also just finished extensively remodeling my 60 year old home with a good contractor) and extensive camper vanning experience. Good Communication and sketches are critical if you want something different. Are the vans conversion expensive? Yes because they are labor and specialized HVAC/plumbing/solar/elec equipment intensive. The construction material and build quality is overall very good. I dickered or deleted only the things I thought were overpriced but recognized that a good reputable company has to make a reasonable profit to be in business. Could have been cheaper if I was motivated to do more work myself but that was not what I wanted to do.

My suggestion to anyone looking into buying one is to rent something similar in size and features for at least a week long road trip with several different types of camping situations and see what you really like and don't like. That tiny toilet and shower compartment and dumping the tank might prove to be not so essential.

PS: we are getting a license plate frame for the Sprinter that says: "my mom is a Westy" :a3:

Angel 04-05-2012 01:45 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Great picture! I want one of those for my dash. :-)

Re toilet water (in my day that was some thing like perfume):
I use RV-TRINE DRY, 5-enzyme formula, formaldehyde free, 100% biodegradable, from Camp World in my porta potty. I do not have an electric flush and never put water in the top manual flush part. It makes it weigh too much and makes it fill up faster. I squirt some water in the bowl with a pop top squirt bottle to rinse/flush it. When I had a black water, I used and did the same thing. No bad smell. If it starts to smell, :t4: add more powder.


Chumley 04-06-2012 04:43 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Why Choose the Sprinter Platform for my Build?

The fourth installment of my journey.

Since I now have a preliminary budget and am waiting to sit down and finalize (I hope) the build I thought I would address some odds and ends.

I appreciate the feedback about the potra potti versus a marine toilet but it sounds like it will be one of those ageless arguments that only you can decide based upon your specific circumstances. It was also nice to hear from Spenard who has such recent experience with SMB West and provided sound advice.

So here I go again…

Like many of you my research began months if not years before committing to a build. It all started for me when I saw the normal Class A motorhome as a legitimate home away from home. As big as a house they were too much for our spontaneous lifestyle (right now anyway). We started looking for smaller options and turned to the Volkswagen Camper Vans. We liked what we saw but noticed that, of course, everything inside was way smaller too. From the little stove to the little table and even the little refrigerator of the unavailable (in the US) California model we wondered how well these “little” things would work for us. One thing that was not little was the price, for an almost 10 year old example a clean one could be well over $40,000. Too small for too much for us. We were looking for comfort with as little compromise as we could get away with. So with one too big and one too small we wanted something ”just right” in size somewhere between. As subjective as “just right” may be you are reading this so I assume we have similar thoughts on these matters.

So the quest moves on in the direction of a Class B motorhome, a modified van would be the right size for us.

I had to make sure that the modest sized beast van platform we used would be the best for us. I had driven a lot of domestic vans in the past and was never impressed with their driving comfort, handling or fuel mileage (gas anyway). But, you know, the American vans tugged at the patriot in me, I struggle with that. I was reminded that Mercedes had a relatively new van and my friend said it did not drive like the American rigs and got incredible gas mileage - it came in a high roof model from the factory too. We wanted the simplicity, security and all weather performance of a solid high top roof. The Sprinter earned a place in the lineup. Well, except that I had spent most of my cognizant adult life avoiding Mercedes like the plague. I grew up with “sporty” cars like the BMW 2002 and 320i and so on and so forth. Mercedes had always been at the other end of the spectrum in those days and an early bias had set in. Add in the Mercedes quality meltdown in the 2000’s and American was looking to figure strongly back into the equation.

There was plenty of research to do. So I went to the internet and dug in. I found this very forum which was very informative and which directed me to the Sprinter Source forum ( I went to the Mercedes Benz site which listed Sportsmobile as a “Bodybuilder and Upfitter”, that was nice. I went to the “Sprinter Guy” dealer website which had a lot of information which would help later when configuring the van for special order (and confound and confuse everyone). One of the members here “gregowski” has a nice website for resources ( and e-publishes the “Sprinter RV Conversion Sourcebook, 2012 Sprinter RV Buyer's Guide”. I called the folks at “Upscale Auto” and they were helpful. I generally annoyed a lot of people but got some great feedback.

It was obvious that I was leaning towards the Sprinter which was strongly influenced by a couple we know that has a previous generation (with the 5 cylinder engine) Sportsmobile. They were always going somewhere and had virtually no problems. A mechanic by trade he did not have anything critical to say, and he would have if given any reason (they were BMW folks too). I have to give the Germans credit where credit is due, they know how to use technology to make something big handle and get better fuel mileage than seems possible. They sure appeared to have done it with the Sprinter van. But I was still worried about reliability and maintenance. I learned from reading the forums that an oil change in a Sprinter is going to be expensive no matter how you look at it. There were other issues that bordered between reliability and maintenance (if you maintain it properly it will be reliable, maybe) and nuisance but it does not appear that there are a lot of known “big” issues (you know, like gas pedals going to the floor on their own or spontaneously bursting into flames). The exhaust scrubbing system seems dodgy though. In general Mercedes appears to be increasing its reliability record (Consumer Reports seems to indicate that, if we can trust that guage). I had to reflect on my own personal experience which taught me that any car manufacturer can produce outside of their reputation range. I had a supposedly well built, easy to maintain Infiniti G35 Coupe that was in the shop about every 2 months for something, many were no minor items. Same thing for my new Toyota Tacoma V6 4x4 four door. On the other hand we have a BMW Z4 and had a Dodge Ram truck which were supposedly problem plagued vehicles but had no problems with either (except that a Dodge Hemi will only get about 13 miles a gallon with me behind the wheel). My Mini Cooper S was supposed to be of above average reliability per Consumer Reports but fell apart right in front of me. The list goes on and on…

A test drive in a Sprinter van by Roadtrek really confirmed everything that I had only read and heard. About as heavily loaded as I expect my build to be it was surprisingly peppy and handled very reasonably. It wasn’t perfect, as noted in a previous post, but I am particular and knew I could fix the concerns somehow later if need be.

I picked the Sprinter van. It gets the +20 mpg, handles like it has no business, rides well, plenty of headroom, I can park it in my driveway (and in a normal parking space in a major urban area), and if it turns out to be of average reliability I will be very happy. At another time and with different circumstances I might have chosen a domestic van, preferably in 4x4, just not now.

So I reviewed the Sportsmobile Sprinter Van special order form. You can do a lot of research if you are so inclined or you can choose from just the options shown on the SMB form. Unfortunately I am so inclined so I read everything I could get into. That included understanding all of the special order codes Mercedes uses by going to the “Sprinter Guy” site and the special order packages info found at “gregowski’s” site - all Mercedes provided information likely meant for the dealers to use. Of course given the complexity of the information they can also become tools for self-inflicting injury. A lot of options are pretty much just personal preference but some could make a difference in performance and durability. I had to know more about what was going into the van before I could make the final decisions so I refocused on the interior build.

I will cover the planned interior build in another post but I ended up with a diesel generator behind the rear axle as well as the fresh water tank and likely some heavy electrical items. I am not sure how much a company like SMB is focused on weight and handling dynamics, I think they are more focused on fitting everything we ask for into that space restricted platform. Thankfully I had remembered reading a few threads here and at the Sprinter Source about fully outfitted weight. I had come to sense that if you go for a build with all of the amenities you were likely pushing the 7,700 lbs that the Roadtrek I drove weighed. I also realize that most manufacturers like to understate things like claimed weight and overstate horsepower and fuel mileage - the Roadtrek claimed weight may have been conservative. I had read a few posts about being over the 8,550 GVWR of the 2500 when ready to travel. Supposedly being at GVWR was not a problem but having so much weight behind the rear axle really made me think. In racing cars, or any good handling car, the weight is kept between the axles. Any weight behind the axle is going to want to swing the end around in a turn or, my concern, make it go up and down on the suspension since it is basically out there on a lever pivoting on the front wheels (I believe it is called a high polar moment of inertia). If I hadn’t put that generator and all of that other stuff back there I would probably feel fine with a 2500 - I would probably be just fine with my extra load in a 2500 as it is but my gut told me to go conservative and get the 3500. Besides I wanted a sort of rugged look and I think this will play into that. The extra 1” of ground clearance also added more room for the generator hanging down back there too.

After all of that research I went back to look at the Mercedes options for the 3500. They were slightly different. I asked the SMB folks about some of the different options offered and they said they didn’t know anything about any of the options except for the ones on their list. I saw stuff I thought I wanted but it was not on the SMB list so I did the legwork. One question that went through my mind was “do they automatically include options on their van orders based upon their experience?” or do they let you figure it out? On the order form is a list on the left of all of the stuff they automatically include. I found one exception but otherwise they don’t appear to add anything not on the list and I think for a reason. I wanted pockets on the rear doors but they don’t do that since they are going to build storage areas in there themselves. The exception I found out on my own was that they typically order their vans with the small DEF tank in the engine compartment (Option KP2: Small SCR tank in the engine compartment) but the sales staff was not aware of this when I asked. Check if you are unsure about what might be included in a base van since some of that fine detail is missing I am sure that they will find out for you.

So there are a lot of options on the SMB Sprinter Van special order form. I would ask a lot about how the heavier suspension options might apply to your build. Is it heavy enough to deserve this attention or is it pretty basic? What is not included on their order form is a package I requested and that was the “High Gravity Center Suspension Package” (Option PS1 list at $470) that is specific to the 3500 lineup. I also ordered a couple of other options not on their list and appreciate SMB’s flexibility in doing this for me. I got the sense that one of the keys to charging only “dealers invoice” on extras is to not spend a lot of time special ordering odd requests like mine.

Yes, I ordered my van through SMB. I went to a local Sprinter dealer who had a few in stock but they were just not outfitted the way I wanted. I looked online and unless you want a white one with some random smattering of desirable options the cargo van was ordered by dealers for the working man. Mine was further complicated by the 3500 option. I don’t like paying any more for a new vehicle that I have to but all in all SMB was very cost competitive for me. Yes, I could’ve saved a few hundred bucks (doubt it would have been thousands) by ordering from someone else but there is not a lot of savings in a special order vs. what’s sitting on the lot. Besides, if I was going to pay the same price to another dealer for the same thing why not let SMB make money on this one?

I feel I ordered the van probably 3-4 weeks later than I could have if I had gotten a good start in communication right from the beginning. However I do feel that due to having the salesman I ended up with I was able to order the right base vehicle for me.

I had to go through the process of selecting the right platform for my build. I used a lot of resources provided right here on this website. I also reached out to the people that work on these things and asked them questions since they deal with the dirty side of the vehicle (under the hood or underneath). I used the feedback from my SMB salesman since I felt that knowing what went inside might influence the version and options on the base van. Ultimately in the end I used all of that research to feel confident about what I felt in my gut. Not everyone needs to go through this amount of research because the Sprinter van is so well suited for this conversion to camper. But like anything, some of us want it to be the best we can have for our specific needs. With the stripped down van at + $45K it is a lot of money and represents half of our build.

I feel very good about the van I ordered and I look forward to the phone call telling me the build is about to begin. In the meantime I finalize the build. I will keep you posted. My next post will be about what I have learned about the interior build process to date.

I really appreciate the feedback and please PM me with your personal story if you have the time. I hope that this thread will be of help to the future SMB owners of the world. If not, well I hope I did not waste your time.

twogone 04-06-2012 06:36 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

windguy 04-07-2012 02:53 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Jage, thanks for your input and others that chimed in as well with good suggestions.
sorry my question took the thread in another direction but it's all build related.
everyone's use and needs are very different so there will never be a consensus.
if we had our s-h-i-t together, we'd have a system that takes the waste from a blackwater tank, converts it into fuel and then pumps it into the fuel tank.

Chumley 04-23-2012 03:31 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
2 Attachment(s)
Of Sportsmobile, My Interior Plan and How About an Extended Warranty?

Here is my Fifth installment, sorry it took so long. It’s a long ambling read, my wife says I have no effective writing skills but this isn’t a corporate report or sales brochure so read it if you have some spare time or skip it.

I wanted to go over the process of getting the interior figured out and share some tidbits about what may be routine and what to expect as well as some odds and ends. Please keep in mind that I am using my particular (peculiar?) build for this series of posts and am not promoting it for everyone, it works for us and your's will work for you, that's what matters.

First thing I want to do is to back up and add some information about the Mercedes Sprinter Van purchase. I have previously forgotten to mention something. I spoke with the dealer that Sportsmobile uses and was informed that there is a Mercedes Benz factory extended warranty. I thought I would share this with you since I will definitely be taking advantage of this offer. The cost at this time is approximately $2,300.00 for up to three (3) additional years or to 125,000 miles, whichever comes first. I have reviewed several extended warranties over the years and even purchased a couple but for the most part am not a big fan of them, however as I mentioned in an earlier post I am a little leery of MBZ’s quality and this is a high technology vehicle (especially for a cargo van). I like this one because it is a factory issued warranty, not a third party, which can be used at any dealership without some sort of concern about approvals or worry about getting paid back as a reimbursable item. I believe it will be added closer to vehicle pickup and will keep you posted as to just how this works. I just wanted to share that with you since the sales staff at SMB did not appear to know anything about this and did not mention it as an offering.

Also, while asking about the extended warranty I was informed that the van itself was complete in Germany and is going through the process of shipping to the US. Believe it or not, it is dis-assembled and shipped to the US where it is reassembled. Apparently this is for some kind of costs savings due to the commercial vehicle nature of the van. If you ordered a passenger van it would ship fully assembled. I don’t think this is an urban legend but someone may want to double check me on that. So it sounds like they build the van itself within a month and then it takes 3 to 4 months to get to SMB.

I have observed that Sportsmobile builds a little of everything and will build pretty much anything a customer wants, within reason (you may find a debate, or two, about how “custom” SMB can get right here in this forum). They are well known for converting vans to 4x4 and providing well-constructed interiors for that use. This is one of the reasons I chose Sportsmobile since my own 4 wheeling experience has taught me that between washboard roads and the jarring you can get from even the best planned rock strewn route there is a lot of vibration, twisting, and general torture taking place on every part of the vehicle. I have a friend with a 5 year old Sprinter SMB conversion and it does not rattle. I drove a new Roadtrek and it rattled everywhere and just sounded “cheap”. When I mentioned all of the rattling the dealer looked at me and said it was a motorhome and they all rattle. Sometimes exposure to the competition is your best advertisement. Since I made the commitment to Sportsmobile I have seen many of the 4x4s (in places like Pinnacles on the 15th) and regular vans (like the grey one on 101 heading south towards Gilroy about 9:00 AM this last Saturday) on the road. Many, many more than the other manufacturers combined here in the “Central Coast” region of California. Of course you always see more once you are joining the club.

I don’t know if I could be called the “average” anything, much less SMB customer but maybe someone here may benefit from my overzealous and “intense” research. I have asked a lot of questions of the SMB staff and I learned a lot during my most recent visit to SMB to sit down and finalize my plan. Each time I visit I know a little bit more about what to look for while there. This trip I learned about little things like their “Armacore”(sp?) plywood used for the cabinets, they do take into account weight distribution for handling effects, they are introducing some new materials and design details, etc… All of these things help me understand what I am getting and figure into the bigger picture of refining their product and, I think, keeping an eye on a changing marketplace. Like most companies the last 3-4 years have been very tough for SMB. This kind of product is pretty popular in the boom times when money had been so cheap and easy to get, you have to admit that these are not insignificant purchases. The workload dropped dramatically in 2008 but apparently they still had some of the clientele that always have money no matter how bad the rest of us feel the pinch, and they downsized. I believe they also benefitted from the custom builder business model. They don’t build vehicles with their own money that may sit on a lot for months or years. They only build what the client demand is currently paying for and like a lot of well managed and established companies it looks like their overhead is under control. They may have been investing in developing new products but this does not have the same cash commitment as dozens or hundreds of units sitting in lots around the country and it does keep them in front of their customers. To me it appears that this would be the type of company that I could invest in for the long haul. I don't see them making a killing all at once, they just consistently plug away in their well-defined niche and try not to screw it up (no, I am not saying that I think they are perfect). So there are some little tweaks coming that will make their vans more appealing and I am looking forward to it. They are adding another wood color for cabinetry which is a maple with a light/medium stain to go with the current cherry wood and dove. They appear to be adding upper cabinet doors which will flip up (a feature of Roadtreks that I liked and now can get with the SMB – now if they would just put glass panels in those doors too…). It appears that there is an evolutionary process in place that keeps them contemporary but I don’t see them going trendy and soon outdated. I have seen pictures of some older SMBs compared to the newer ones and the conservative approach makes them appear to have aged well (no “harvest gold” or “avocado”). Anyway, just some observations and opinions based upon my most recent visit.

As I have mentioned before my wife and I had a pretty good of idea of what we wanted to do in the van, we just had to figure out how to configure it to make it fulfill that need. We studied the standard floor plans SMB offered and looked at what the other manufacturers were doing. Most appeared to have the galley and restroom mid-ship and the “living/sleeping” area in the rear to get that rear wrap around view (I had always liked this layout in the van conversion motorhomes we rented in the past too). We liked the standard RB110S plan since it provided that layout. Since you can’t easily see a completed SMB van we went to the local RV shop and sat in the competition’s versions. I will go back to the Roadtrek, they had 2 models we spent time sitting in, the SS Ideal and SS Agile (they had become a strong candidate during the period of time we considered bailing from SMB). We did not get to do as Spenard had so wisely recommended, and rent one, but we spent a fair amount of time revisiting this nearby dealer when we wanted to understand how something might work. One Roadtrek had the restroom across from the sliding door and the other across the sliding door opening. We noticed that they felt much more roomy than ever imagined and one key aspect was that the front seats were not right up against a wall (like a bathroom wall) like the RB110S indicated. This opened up the view with the cab seats swiveled around (although the driver’s seat will not rotate completely, just enough to hopefully watch the TV when swung out into the aisle). On the SMB website was a modified RB110S plan shown as an example. We copied that and felt it would be perfect. We felt committed and decided to pull the trigger.

I spoke with our salesman and he sounded busy so I drew our plan on the SMB design-it-yourself computer generated plan that I printed out.

I sent that with our list of options along with the standard floor plan designation and directions to release our deposit check that had put on hold. I had not been able to get SMB to provide an estimate but they said I could develop a rough one based upon the standard plan we selected and add on the options we wanted. They would apparently take us seriously when we sent that deposit for the van order. It was strange for me to send a non-refundable $1,000.00 check to someone when I wasn’t sure if what I wanted was within our budget but that is apparently how it works. I also felt confident that if the budget went bust I could find a legal way to get our deposit back and they seemed to be pretty legit guys so felt they would work with me (if I didn’t bail after the van was in production). So we released the check and other info and waited, and waited. I guess I must be the antsy type but when everything suddenly goes dark on you and phone calls are not returned I don’t know what to think. We had gone from a very slow progress to making great progress in just a week and a half and then as soon as the check gets cashed in there is no response. So I waited. About two and a half weeks later the estimate shows up. It’s nothing fancy and appears to be a preformatted form where you just plug in the options with pre-set pricing and out pops a price. I did learn that there was some massaging later but that was not initially apparent. Still, it looked like no more than half an hour’s work (I know, I have to remember that aforementioned downsizing). The estimate is now here and it is over budget, great. Instead of starting with the RB110S plan and adding options it was taken from scratch and everything was added on. I do feel it was legit since we made quite a few changes but it was a departure from what we had initially thought, just watch out. I decided that I better meet with our salesman in person to understand where it all came from. So we made an appointment.

I don’t know if this is a typical example of how a visit to finalize the budget goes but here is mine. To prepare for the appointment I dissected and studied the estimate and wrote all of my questions down. I put together a file and made a copy for our salesman (I believe that it is self-serving to provide too much information). As much as I was convinced that the end product would ultimately be a very good one I had seen and experienced the type of shortcomings that make me want to take control of the situation until I was sure someone else would or the process was safely under way. Our meeting allayed all of my fears. The salesman was very professional (I guess I was not sure how it would be) and had all of the information I needed when asked. He also showed me the new product(s) and told me about upcoming changes. The new plywood pattern and door style were introduced as well as showing me the new porta-potti, a Thetford Curve which is a very nice appearing toilet. I was also shown a couple of vans being built I had not seen before and all in all they looked great (I finally saw an installed Kenwood stereo that Rob of Integrated Audio Solutions installed and it was very nice, both the installation and the unit itself). So we spent almost three hours reviewing everything. It was nice to get everything confirmed. He provided his version of my plan and it all looked like he had been paying attention.

He said that we get three sets of electrical receptacles (110v) so we placed those, he showed me where the lighting went and we went over materials. We also discussed the refrigerator which I was going to purchase myself that weekend at a boat show. We had wanted more capacity than offered by the Norcold options (that would fit with the bath across the aisle) and he told us about Isotherm (by Indel Abasto). The Isotherm has trick insulation and whatever so it gives you more interior volume per exterior volume. Of course this magical additional volume comes with an additional price. SMB provided a very fair refer credit so we checked the refer chart and he pointed out that the 130 cubic liter model I wanted (4.6 c.f.) wouldn’t fit so we went with the 100 c.l. (3.5 c.f.) instead. That pushed the countertop up to 34”-35” with the stove but I had wanted a higher top anyway to feel more like home (36”), the Roadtrek had 38” high countertops and I remembered that those were perfectly acceptable (32” is the normal SMB height). Note: the “Galley SB” design says it will hold a 3 c.f. refer but SMB pointed out that the door has to open fully and the bath across the hall crunched that distance. We matched the countertop height on the small cabinet next to the bath and that was set. We located the propane heater in that cabinet next to the bath since I did not want it under my head (I don’t know if it is an issue but didn’t want that thing firing up under my head at night). We increased the water tank to 20 gallons (or so). We put a shelf on the wall of the bath over the cabinet for spices and such so we could leave the space over the stove open. We have a drawer for utensils in the cabinet next to the bath and shelves for pot/pans and dishes above the propane heater, overhead we have a shelf for a microwave. We lost the narrow full height closet next to the bath in the RB110S plan with the relocation of the bath (it was substituted with the cabinet now on the other side of the bath) so we will have a clothes hanger rod installed over an ottoman for the occasional (rare) long hanging item. We will add a cloth curtain that will close off the cab from the back. During this process we went back and forth to the examples being built or a couple of displays. It was nice to be there and remove the doubt as we planned. I had the opportunity to see the materials we wanted, see example of their installations and confirm dimensions. My salesman was very professional and extremely helpful with, what I have now come to expect, honest evaluations of needs. We had figured out how to get our basic needs of cooking and eating covered, a reasonable bathroom and what is a larger than ever imagined bed (6’x 6’). We feel that it appears more open when seated in the cab looking back because we put a 34” height cabinet behind the driver instead of the bath wall and put a full window so you can see out. Like the SMB RB110S website example the shower will have a curtain to contain errant shower water and the awning window crank is above the cabinet top. My God, how did it all fit? The budget was fully explained and the costs are fair for what we asked for, we just have to figure out if we proceed with the budget or cut something out.

Note: Something that I want to share is that Alan Feld told me that it is best to get the most complete and concise plan in place and approved/signed off before the work begins. He said that adding and making changes during the build is where things can get missed and compromises made. As a builder I can attest that it takes a lot more attention to track changes.

I asked about allowing me to perform inspections at construction milestones and they said that they would rather take pictures and send them to me than hold up the project every time I wanted to see something. I understand what they are saying and will concede to that. The build process makes sense to me and is straightforward. There is a meeting before each build with all of the department foremen to hash out the details, a must for any construction oriented project. This is when the signed off scope of work gets etched in everyone’s mind. The sequence is normal for me to see: floor goes in, wall/roof insulation, electrical and plumbing lines, wall panels, ceiling, cabinets and seating/sleeping, misc. tanks and electronics, appliances, a/v stuff, trims. Again, I looked over some finished units and they looked very nice. I asked about quality control and was told that the project manager goes out and routinely performs quality inspections. I told him that I tell any electrician on my jobs that I will provide levels for their use (inside joke since most electricians don’t carry them and light switches and plugs are never plumb/level). I paid special attention to the different controls, monitors and devices to see if they looked well installed. Remember that you can’t just put a level on items since the vans do not sit level during construction. This takes a little more skill (and templates). One nice, but unfortunate, outcome of an economic slowdown is that companies can cull their staff bit and keep the best craftsmen. This may satisfy the concern of some who contacted me who were worried about issues with past quality brought up in this forum. Anyway, after the van is complete they take it out for a 40 mile test drive to isolate squeaks and rattles and then it waits for you to pick it up. They want you to take it out and find out if you have issues or find something they may have missed and then bring it back so they can make adjustments.

We summarized our meeting and I asked about how to maintain good communication. He explained that they are a casual type of industry compared to what I am used to and they try to answer calls within a day but it can’t always happen. I agreed that I will alert him to issues that need immediate addressing and what can wait. He will now go back and revise the estimate per our tweaks. We feel 95% sure of what we want but are making a couple of final decisions. Per Alan’s comment I want to be as complete at sign off as possible. I know that those changes can cause the biggest problems once a project is underway.

I feel that I am about to sign off until the build itself begins. The build is scheduled to start mid-August with a ten week build schedule. We will have to push our late summer vacation to fall and steer us a little more south than we had expected but I think we will get a trip in or maybe spend Thanksgiving in Death Valley.

I believe that spending a lot of time doing my research has paid off but it really came together when I had the full attention of my salesman. If you are not fortunate enough to have an RV dealer nearby go to an RV show and don’t be shy about spending time in a comparable Class B motorhome to get a reasonable feel for what to expect. I also benefitted immensely form the last visit to finalize details where I could go out and confirm materials and dimensions. My salesman is a professional and he helped me without selling me anything extra (that in itself still amazes me). There are new design elements that I will appreciate (the wife likes upper doors going up out of the way) and I like the revised interior layout that the salesman helped me establish. I ventured away from a standard plan but have been assured that it will be completed per my plan (I will provide reports on this as we go). My salesman helped me find other equipment or appliances that made my build feasible where standard equipment was a problem. I will finalize my plans before the build starts as best I can (and then be diligent about communication on any changes during construction). The electronics package by Integrated Audio is not cheap but I feel I can trust that the installation will be a quality one. Let the fun begin.

I am officially excited about my upcoming build.

Good luck to you on yours.

BTW: I apologize if the attachments are a pain in the butt but they are .pdfs.

windguy 04-25-2012 01:41 AM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience
Chapter 5 was good reading. thanks
sounds like things are progressing nicely for you. great news!

curious, your floor plan shows a combo toilet/shower compartment, but you are talking about using a portable Thetford. Do you plan to omit the marine toilet and use a portable instead so you can remove it to shower?

any details on other systems in your build like:
- solar?
- type of propane heater?
- type of water heater?
- grey water tank size?

keep up the good work and keep us posted.

Chumley 04-25-2012 01:58 PM

Re: My SMB Sprinter Van conversion building experience

Thanks for reading.

You asked some legitimate questions that I should have addressed.

We changed to a porta-potti from the marine toilet. I had not thought about how convenient it may be to shower without the toilet in place, good idea. I am only 5'8" now (and maybe 5'7" when the build is complete) and the wife is about 5'4" so the shower should work fine either way. Note: I originally liked the shower size in the Roadtrek with their "pop-out" into the hallway doors, at first. I measured the Roadtrek and the bath is only about 18" wide before you open up the doors to get you to 24", the SMB is 24" to begin with so there is more room, you do give up some in the hall.

We quickly moved away from the solar panels since the number we could fit on our roof (1) would not run an a/c unit. I don't know how many panels it would take to run the a/c. A friend highly recommended going with solar since his works well for his circumstances but we decided we needed relaible full power when we wanted it, hence the generator.

I only know of one type of propane heater offered so we are using that one. If there are more options I am definitely open to learning more about them. We did not go with the diesel heater due to cost and having read about some issues with reliability here on this forum.

We decided upon the flat plate heater. We had space considerations and our propane tank had shrunk to about 4.5 gallons due to the generator addition. We ran out of room for the water heater and tank so the compromise was the flat plate. I don't know how much I want to run the engine in the morning in a campsite for a shower but I have noticed that the engine is remarkably quiet and exhaust pretty much odor free so I don't think I'll feel too bad. A compromise I think I can live with.

We will end up with a 5 gallon grey water tank on each side. Under the shower and under the sink. I think that the one under the shower may grow a bit since the marine toilet was deleted. I'll have to check on that. I was hoping to enlarge the propane tank but was told that it did not work that way, if I remember correctly.

I think I have made the right choices for my build and circumstances but this is the first time I've done this. Some of you may be sitting back and chuckling because of some glaring mistakes I am making so please chime in. I welcome a challenge to see if my ideas can withstand the test.

I should say here, and go back and edit my last post, that I am using my example for everyone to see how the process works, not to promote my floor plan to everybody. I have been told (by the Roadtrek salesman) that SMBs are harder to resell since there is no fixed floor plan. Mine may be hard to resell since it was tailored to work for us. I don't know how many people would be comfortable on a 6'1" long bed but we are. I am sure each one of you that has built their SMB feels that your plan is the best, and it is, for you. This is really the key feature to designing and building your own SMB, it is truly your motorhome. :u1:

Good luck.


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